By T. D. Thornton

Bruce Seymore, the executive director of Arapahoe Park, is a bit of a maverick racetrack operator. His Colorado oval is geographically isolated from other racing venues, and when Seymore senses he has a good idea to bolster the product at his three-month mixed Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse and Arabian meet, he doesn’t hesitate to implement it.

In 2014, in the middle of the summer season, Seymore decided to offer $1,000 bonuses to the trainer of any winning horse that ran medication-free (in Colorado, only Lasix, Phenylbutazone, Banamine and Ketoprofen are permissible on raceday). Over the course of about eight weeks, a total of 21 Arapahoe horses ran medication-free, and three of them won a total of four races.

By way of comparison, when the much larger Oaklawn Park opted a few months later to offer a 10% winning bonus to owners whose horses ran and won Lasix-free at the 2015 meet, the Arkansas track rewarded only four horses total (with one repeat winner) over the course of a much longer season.

Emboldened by the fact that other jurisdictions were joining the medication-free movement, Seymore was looking forward to bringing back the program this summer. Several horsemen told him in advance of the meet that they would be shipping in horses to target the medication-free bonuses.

But Arapahoe’s ambitious incentive for phasing out raceday medication hit a snag shortly after the season began May 22 when it was discovered that a technicality in the Colorado Racing Commission rules prohibited horses from discontinuing the use of furosemide (also branded Lasix and Salix) if they had previously run well while on the anti-bleeding diuretic.

The roadblock in question is Colorado Racing Commission rule 5.324, which states, in part:

‘A horse may be removed from the bleeder list prior to its first start at a given meet in Colorado if it meets the following criteria: (A) It has only bled one time in the past; and (B) It has not participated in an official race at any track during the previous six (6) months or it has raced officially in the previous six (6) months and finished 5th or worse the majority of times that it ran on furosemide according to The Daily Racing Form.’

Seymore said the rule came to light when the Arapahoe stewards flagged several “off Lasix” entries and denied the medication changes based on recent finish positions.

“It’s very strange, and it’s one of those rules we didn’t know existed until one of the stewards found it,” Seymore said. “I think whoever wrote it, I just want to believe they thought they were protecting the betting public

[by linking a horse’s good past performances with medication use], and it’s having the exact adverse effect.”

Seymore said he believed only two horses have earned medication-free bonuses so far in 2015. Once word got around on the backstretch about the complications surrounding the rule, he said it made it more difficult for him to advocate for participation in the program.

Seymore said he has enlisted the help of Dan Hartman, director of the Colorado Division of Racing Events, help to get the rule changed, but both agreed to wait until the meet ends.

Hartman said, “Colorado is very pro non-medication on raceday. We have a zero tolerance, we have it a little bit different than everybody else. We want of makes sure that the rules kind of follow along with that. If a person wants to take their participant off of Lasix, we want to make sure that those rules allow that.”

Seymore underscored that Arapahoe’s medication-free program is different from other proposed models in that it pays bonuses to trainers, not owners, “because that’s who’s entering the horses.”

“It’s kind of a sleeping dog. But at some point in time you’ve got to stand up for what’s right, and that’s what we’re trying to do. I’m terrified that there could be some sort of federal [zero-tolerance medication] law that could come down, and I just want to be ahead of the curve.”